Six years ago I first stepped foot on Clemson's campus. I had applied to the school late
, after visits to South Carolina and Georgia Tech had left me less than satisfied. After being accepted, my mom and I made the trip down from Pittsburgh. We flew into Charlotte and then took a trip that is familiar to all Clemson fans. I-85 to 25 to 123 to 93 into Clemson. I don't remember much from that first drive; the two hour drive seemed to take forever and food may have been the most important thing for me at that point.
I do remember one thing, though-the first time I saw Death Valley. We had checked into the Hampton Inn by the lake and then took what turned out to be the back way into Clemson. It is still my favorite way to see Clemson, taking 93 across the lake and seeing the top of the stadium rising in the background. It appears as though Death Valley is submerged in water; only after getting closer do you realize it's not.
After arriving on campus we drove by the front of the stadium and truly began to appreciate it. As an LSU fan I had always liked the grand stadiums in SEC land. To me college football wasn't worth playing without a stadium of 70 to 80,000 fans. I remember turning to my mom and saying, "They have a proper sized stadium; they must be good."
In case you never had to take a math class, I was stepping foot on campus in 2008. It was possibly the most classic Clemson season possible: infinite optimism to start followed by a crushing reality and then a sole victory to salvage the season into something that was only respectable in South Carolina.
It was a frustrating season coming from LSU fandom. I was used to national titles and conference championships. To me a no. 9 ranking meant you were pretty darn good, not that you were destined to Clemson in front of a national audience against Nick Saban's Alabama.
But Clemson moved on. There was an exciting 2009 campaign culminating in possibly my favorite in person Clemson moment: 80,000 fans chanting C.J. Spiller during an entire TV timeout. The less said about 2010 the better, but it was the catalyst for today's success.
My senior year was a return to glory for Clemson. I was there for Auburn and Florida State, for the disappointment of South Carolina but also the glory of our first ACC title. It was difficult to imagine Clemson fans having more excitement than that night. Clemson had finally returned from the wilderness that is the middle of the ACC. It's something that should have happened years ago, but took decades to achieve.
So why the long story, especially when I know many of you are wondering when I'll get to the point? I feel like we've gotten a bit spoiled as a fanbase. We've had three very good seasons. Yes, losing to South Carolina sucks and last year's defeat to Florida State was humiliating, but I feel like too many of us have lost the fun in college football. We've gotten upset over victories against Georgia Tech and Boston College. We vented as we whipped Duke and creamed Syracuse. We've become the bitter old man who sits on the front porch and grumbles about the sky being blue, that grandpa you could never please and he wasn't even secretly proud of your achievements. When you aren't enjoying victories what are you going to like?
I worry there has been a tendency to expect success, to feel like we deserve it. No one deserves anything in college football. You have to grab it with both hands and beat your opponent over the head to get it. It requires luck, skill, and even more luck. Look at Auburn. They were two last second plays away from being 9-3. Instead they finished 11-1 and ended up just missing out on another national title. Louisville was headed toward an undefeated season until an unknown Central Florida team snatched a BCS bowl from Charlie Strong.
I love college football. I love watching the noon B1G snoozefest between Iowa and Indiana and I love watching the SEC game of the week with Uncle Verne. Every Saturday is a chance for something new, something unexpected, something that makes us all stand in shock.
But last year I didn't always get that. I was too caught up in little things. We didn't run for enough yards, we took too many sacks, or our offensive line used their hands as effective as a baby does. It is not fair to the team, not fair to my friends, and not fair to myself. I didn't love Clemson football, and that is the biggest problem.
Now that isn't to say those problems I mentioned should be ignored. Obviously they are problems or else I would have been much happier. But ultimately it is the result that matters. Twenty years from now no one is going to remember the poor guard play or Tajh taking too many sacks. Rather, they will look back at the night when the eyes of college football where on a small town in the Upstate. Where 85 kids touched a rock and ran down a hill to play college football. A place where a sea of orange sang their Alma Mater and then roared as their team fought for an opening day victory. Those are the memories of college football, and I'd rather enjoy them every weekend.